The boys varsity tennis team is heading to Holly, Michigan on Friday to compete in the state tournament. With top seeds in nearly every flight, the Rangers are looking to defend the state title that they won last year. The team is returning just six varsity players, yet is still ranked second in the state and has a chance at repeating as state champions.
“We are in sort of the same situation as we were last year, with a shot at it, but we really need to play well to win it all,” said senior Humzah Azeem, who plays 1 doubles and placed first in 3 doubles last year with 2015 graduate Ryan Conner. “It’s going to be tough but we have a shot. A lot of us just need to believe. … Peaking tomorrow, mixed with a little bit of luck, we could have it in the bag.”
All eight flights are seeded and have a bye the first round. The majority of FHC’s players have not played in the state tournament before, though they have the experience of returning athletes Connor Genschaw (1 singles), Cooper James (2 singles), Jake Herbruck (3 singles), Jacob Wiltjer (4 singles), and Azeem and Reed Aleck (1 doubles) to remind the team just how incredible it is to win a state title.
“It meant the world to me last year to win,” said Azeem. “It was such an incredible experience with some of my best friends, and I couldn’t have asked for a better end for my season or the seniors. Looking back I didn’t realize how much it meant to me in the moment, but as a senior [now] the pressure is building and the emotions are running high.”
According to Azeem, the team’s apparent inexperience may serve as an asset as they battle against top-ranked Portage Central, who will be heading to the tournament with a highly experienced roster. While FHC’s team is young, athletes in all flights have performed well throughout of the season and Azeem hopes that their “vigor and spontaneity” will serve as a “foil” to Portage Central and help FHC come out on top.
Azeem is not the only one who believes the team has the potential to win the state tournament.
“I feel pretty good about our chances this year,” said senior Tim Spurlin, one half of the 3 doubles team seeded third in the tournament. “One of the best things working for us is the depth of our roster. We have a lot of good players throughout the lineup.”
Matches will begin in Holly at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. 1 and 2 doubles will play at Fenton High School, where, along with the 3 and 4 doubles matches at Grand Blanc High School, play will begin at 8:30. FHC has the number one seeds in 4 singles (Wiltjer) and 4 doubles (Michael Batistte and Peyton Herbert), and the number two seed in 1 singles (Genschaw).
“As a team we can do this,” Azeem said. “We really can, but we need to focus in. There isn’t anything quite like the feeling of playing a point in a state finals match, but if we can get there, we’re going to do big things. … It’s really all in our hands.”